When Jo listens to her favorite country music—Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson—she’s transported to another place.
“She closes her eyes and just rocks,” says Marie Coz, RN, a volunteer who helps Jo with her iPod. “She’ll tell me ‘I’m real deaf, crank it up!’”
The 95-year-old resident of the Memory Care unit at Mary, Queen of Angels Assisted Living Community in Nashville, Tenn., is one of those people who makes an indelible impression as soon as you meet her. The fourth child of eight, Jo grew up on a farm. “She was the best cotton picker and hoer. Her dad was real proud of her,” says Marie, who has spent many hours getting to know Jo in the process of creating her personalized playlist.
“I Get to Be Me”
“Jo is absolutely magic. She’s this neat person, very gentle. When others are anxious, she’ll talk them down. She likes to move, put on the iPod and walk laps in the unit. I’ve never seen her with high anxiety or low depression. She can’t always give you the answer to basic questions, but a lot of her is still present.”
When Marie asks where she goes in her mind when listening to her music, Jo responds, “Well, mostly looking for my husband,” the love of her life. And at the end of every MUSIC & MEMORY℠ session, she’ll say, “Thank you so much for the music. It’s like I get to be me.”
“Music takes her to a place where she can connect with her true essence,” says Marie.
“I’ve Got to Do This”
Experiences like her relationship with Jo continually inspire Marie to put in hundreds of volunteer hours at Mary, Queen of Angels. A former oncology nurse, she retired a few years early to care for her own 93-year-old mother. “She’s very much alive and clear, but physically needs more support to have full and stimulating days,” says Marie. “I have, for the time being, left the work force to be 100 percent available to her.” It was during this time that she first became interested in Music & Memory after watching a screening of Alive Inside. Deeply moved by the impact of the personalized playlist program, she decided, “in that one moment, I have to do this.”
Volunteering as a Music & Memory Ambassador, she began calling area memory care units and delivering more than 100 copies of the documentary, which she purchased herself, all over town. About two months after she had spoken with staff at Mary, Queen of Angels, Marie got a call to meet with Executive Director Lyndsey Gower. By the end of the meeting, Music & Memory was a go. Once staff and Marie completed certification training, the memory care unit launched the Music & Memory program, with Marie as lead volunteer. Gower and Activities Director Tammy Marlin have been very supportive of the program.
Now, a year in, Marie says all 18 residents of the Memory Care Unit have iPods. She manages the playlists with the help of Life Enrichment Assistant Carol Azmita and brings the music to the residents. “One day, one of my sweeties was having a meltdown,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Meg, let’s rock and roll!’ and set her up with her iPod. She still had little tears in her eyes, but within seconds, she was singing and swaying her hips to Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire. To use such a therapeutic modality is mind blowing.”
“We Have Residents Dancing in the Hallways”
Nurses in the unit are beginning to notice. “At first, they thought this is just one more thing to do,” says Marie. “But we have residents dancing in the hallway. They are realizing there really is something to this.”
For Marie, there’s no question that Music & Memory is a powerful way to uplift the residents, tap into lost memories and build meaningful relationships. “I’m passionate about health and much prefer music over psychotropic meds,” she says. “This is just so powerful. I’m determined, in my own little way, to keep putting it out there and convincing other interested caregivers to try it.
“Music is the best medicine I have ever administered.”
Founded in 2010, MUSIC & MEMORY℠ is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of people with cognitive or physical conditions through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.